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Allison Wedell Schumacher's picture

Let’s see:

Shop for school supplies…check.

Make sure immunizations are up-to-date…check.

Sign up for sports and music lessons…check.

Talk about sexual abuse prevention…wait. What?

I feel like such a grownup when I say it, but the summer has really flown by. We’re starting to make sure all the books we read over the summer are written down, transitioning to an earlier bedtime, going through my daughter’s closet to see which clothes still fit and which ones need to be replaced.


Talk to everyone

And somewhere in all this flurry of back-to-school preparation, my husband and I will have to find the time to talk to our daughter about staying safe from sexual abuse (not sure what to say? Watch this video). Because with a new school year come new situations and, especially, new adults: new teachers, new coaches, new after-school care providers and classmates’ parents. And because the attacker is known to the child in up to 90 percent of sexual abuse cases, we have to equip her with the tools she needs to refuse and report unsafe touches.

The cool thing about having these conversations is that sometimes the child doesn’t even have to use the skills—the very act of talking about it can be a protective factor from sexual abuse. We know from research that many perpetrators try to groom potential victims: They create a special bond with a child, perhaps giving him little gifts or experiences that no one else gets. They also gain the trust of the child’s family—I mean, who doesn’t love it when another adult thinks their child is the bee’s knees?


Stop the grooming before it starts

And most of the time, these bonds are exactly what they look like: an appropriate, caring relationship between an adult and a child. But sometimes they’re grooming techniques: if a child thinks the world of an adult, he or she is less likely to refuse an unsafe touch or tell another adult about it. And if that child does try to tell his or her parents, they may be less likely to believe that Coach Smith could do something so awful after he’s been so kind to the child and the family.

Does this mean we have to assume that every adult in our children’s lives is out to get them? Of course not. Because like I said, just talking about it can be a protective factor. A child predator is much less likely to target my daughter if I let slip a casual comment about the talk I had with her yesterday about unsafe touches, or that never keeping secrets is a family safety rule. I want that person to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if they try to touch my daughter inappropriately, she will say no, get away, and tell me or another adult. And that there will be consequences.


Add it to the list

So my back-to-school list certainly includes number two pencils and haircuts. But right at the top are “talk about safe and unsafe touches” and “mention same to new adults.” It doesn’t take long, and could prevent awful experiences with mental and physical ramifications no child should have to undergo.

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